Saturday, October 1, 2016


Somehow, following on from the John Barleycorn post, and maintaining a similarly bucolic theme, this was the only and obvious choice. Surely a song about the mythological origins of ale has to be followed by the practicality of how large(r) scale production of one of the essential ingredients took place, at least until last century. Hopping here means the gathering in of hops, I am afraid, perhaps rather than the image the band's name might offer, that of a one-legged dance, not least as the consumption of hop based beverages might lead toward that and thence to entirely legless dancing. (Yes, oh my sides too.....) Here is an excellent website devoted to the yearly migration of an itinerant workforce down to the Kentish hopfields, Kent being the county at the far south-eastern tip of England.

As to the song itself, it belongs to the long and broad canon of that well known author, trad.arr., and has a lineage stretching back over the centuries, and has some history. I was a complete convert to ye olde english folk-rock back in my teens and onward, so anything residually Fairport Convention related was always going to be right up my street, and Ashley Hutching's various Albion (Dance/Country) Bands were certainly that. Hutchings, estwhile bassist for Fairport Convention, has an illustrious history, often cited as the Guv'nor or as the Godfather of Folk-Rock, given his seminal founding roles within both Fairport and with early Steeleye Span, ahead even of the ever changing and evolving Albion Bands. (Time and space neither allow much discussion, not least as I have covered similar territory at least once before.) However, I am today more interested in his sometime wife, Shirley Collins, as it is she who sings on the version above.

If Hutchings is the Guv'nor, then Collins is surely the Grande Dame, not only or even necessarily of folk-rock, but of the entire english living folk idiom, despite, to all intents and purposes, having given up performance some decades ago, itself a fallout of their acrimonious break-up. When Hutchings left her for a younger model, an actress actually, she developed the condition hysterical aphonia, putting an untimely end to her recording career and to live performance. This odd condition, whilst felt to be of psychological origin, is nonetheless completely ruinous and debilitating to anyone reliant upon their voice, as, curiously, was also the cause of Linda Thompson losing her voice under the similar circumstance of being deserted by her folk-rock ex, Richard (Thompson). (I have no record as to the fates of any other ex-spouses of current or previous Fairport members, but hope that current drummer, Gerry Conway, sticks with his squeeze, Jacqui McShee.) Collins' career began long before that of her onetime husband, unsurprisingly, being 10 years older. Steeped in the tradition from birth, her first appearance on record was in 1955, a year following her hooking up with celebrated US collector and cataloguer of american folk songs, Alan Lomax, director of the Archive of American Folk Song, with whom she later accompanied on his post-McCarthy witch-hunt return to the states. (This was the 1959 excursion that had led to the discovery of Mississippi Fred McDowell!) Returning, alone, to the UK, she reconnected her recording career, notably on the iconic jazz-folk fusion of "Folk Roots, New Routes", alongside the acoustic guitar wizardry of Davy Graham, in 1964. A track follows below:

Her next move was to enter into duet recordings with elder sister, Dolly, accompanying her on the intriguingly named portative organ, as well as, on her milestone release, "Anthems in Eden", the participation of David Munrow's Early Music Consort. Crumhorns afrenzy alert. Arguably this is what will have drawn her to the attention of Ashley Hutchings.

Fresh from his exit from Steeleye Span, Hutchings and Collins married in 1971, and he was responsible for the production of her next, nominally, solo album, "No Roses", albeit  entitled as "and the Albion Country Band", a vast collective of disparate musicians from many fields. This included many of Hutchings' folk-rock compatriots, singers from Collins' more traditional diaspora and even Lol Coxhill, eccentric free-jazz saxophonist. I would say this recording is up there with "Liege and Lief" as being the most important of modern day folk records. Hell, in contemporary/modern music full stop. Especially this track below, up to anything ever produced in this style of music:

This was followed by a brief period of calm, as the married couple settled into acoustic folkie mode as half of the brief-lived Etchingham Steam Band.

Thereafter it seemed that the Albion brand became revived and moved on and away from her, more now her husband's baby than hers, in incarnations as "Dance" and "Country" versions, before ditching either description and sometimes even the "the" as well, sometimes again bringing one or other title back. In both acoustic and electric line-ups, at one time 2 simultaneous different line-ups, bar the omnipresent Ashley. True, Collins popped up occasionally, as in the title song of this piece, and in other Hutchings projects, notably "Morris On", until he popped off. She has since sung nary a note, but has toured with spoken word pieces. However, in February 2014 an audience were probably shocked and delighted to hear and see her perform 2 songs, having been coerced by and with the accompaniment by Ian Kearey, ex-Oyster Band.

Finally, and, as a final and hopefully happy coda, at the age of 81, she brings out her first album of new material in over 3 decades, "Lodestar". I for one cannot wait. Due out next month, this is fairly hot on the heels of this, a 3 disc tribute from artists as disparate as Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Will Oldham) and ex-Blur guitarist, Graham Coxon.

Buy? Too much choice, way too much choice, but here is her amazon page as a starter, which doesn't even include the titular track of this page. (Which is here)

P.S. Shirley Collins actually did go hopping down in Kent as a schoolgirl, picking hops for the Guinness brewers, her family making an annual tradition of this.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Harvest/Fall: John Barleycorn

purchase [Traffic: John Barleycorn]

If you go way back into the SMM archives, you can see several posts about John Barleycorn - the song must be the first one that comes to mind about harvest and such.

Sad to say, back in those days, the Internet was a different beast: most SMM bloggers had side accounts at hosting sites and placed their music files there to share wi. But that all ended a while back. As a result, if you do locate those posts, the music is not available, and so, for that reason, an update.

My post is a version by the author himself, in the raw so to speak. the essence of the song. And it's good.

However: appears to still be a good link.

Harvest/Fall: Homegrown Tomatoes

Guy Clark: Homegrown Tomatoes

In our backyard, we have three raised beds, poorly built by me, and a couple of unraised beds (or should I just say “beds?” Sort of like calling grass “natural turf,” I guess). The newest raised bed got new, rich soil a couple of years ago, and whatever we plant in there tends to do well. The rest of the planting is kind of hit or miss. This year, for example, pretty much everything we grew in the other beds, raised and otherwise, were kind of disappointing. We got very few peppers, despite two waves of planting four different types. Our lettuces were not eaten, as they were last year, by a groundhog, but were pretty sparse. The carrots never came up at all. We harvested a single zucchini (zucchino?) before the plant succumbed to some sort of disease, which also seemed to affect the cucumbers, which were a shutout. Stringbeans grew, and we got a handful, before, it appears, a deer was able to knock down the netting and eat the plant. (Clues were nibbled plants, dislodged netting and a pile of deer poop).

We did get a good showing from the herb division, with parsley, sage, rosemary, and (wait for it), thyme all thriving, along with oregano, chives, mint, and for a brief spell, cilantro.

But, as expected, our most successful plants were in the new bed, which we planted with tomatoes and basil (apparently, you cannot plant mozzarella, and our yard is not big enough for cows, so our caprese salads this summer were not completely homegrown). The pesto, though, was excellent.

We had a bumper crop of tomatoes (see the picture above), and that was, mostly, a good thing. There really is nothing that can compare to the first ripe one that you pick. I love to pick one, slice it and put it on an everything bagel with cream cheese. I did say that it was “mostly” a good thing, because at a certain point, we had more tomatoes than we knew what to do with. I should have made batches of sauce, or fresh salsa, but I never did. Instead, I used tomatoes in every possible dish that I could, trying, unsuccessfully, to use them all before they went bad.

And then, they were gone. We had to stoop to buying heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market (which in these parts is called the “TaSh,” for Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow). Then, a couple of weeks ago, a second wave began to ripen. Smaller, not as lush, but still tasty, they again all pretty much ripened at the same time, and I am again rapidly trying to use ‘em before I lose ‘em. There are a few more out there, so we might get a few stragglers until the frost, but I suspect that pretty soon we will be pulling up the plants.

My wife, who is the real gardener, and I have agreed that next year we need to amend the soil in the older beds, and hope for a better harvest.

Guy Clark’s deceptively simple paean (I word that I have never know how to pronounce) to the joys of “Homegrown Tomatoes” has been featured on this blog twice before, but not since 2012, and it fit the theme, so sue me (but remember that I am a lawyer, so I won’t be paying legal fees). It is a jaunty celebration of the pleasures of eating the titular fruit (tomatoes are fruits. Really.) As Clark sings,

Only two things money can't buy 
That's true love and homegrown tomatoes

Rolling Stone noted, “There are few songwriters in existence who can sing about something as simple as bacon, lettuce and tomatoes and make it sound truly poignant, not silly — and, certainly, Guy Clark was one of them.” Clark was one of the great Texas songwriters, although most of his “hits” were recorded by others. In fact, “Homegrown Tomatoes” is one of only three of his own recordings that charted on Billboard’s Country charts, but it continues to be a beloved song. And, what the hell, here’s another one of my favorite Guy Clark songs, the much-covered “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train”:

Unfortunately, Clark died back in May, just a couple of days after my dad, after a long battle with lymphoma, another casualty in this year in which we seem to have lost so many people whose lives were devoted to giving us pleasure.